February 5, 2009

Hoops Preview: ASU

Oregon enters the second half of the Pac 10 schedule looking for their first conference win. They'll do it Thursday night at Mac Court where they'll have the home crowd, but a formidable opponent in 23rd ranked ASU. As a testament to how tough the conference is, the Sun Devils are just 5-4 in conference play but 16-5 overall.

Assistant Coach Kenny Payne spoke a little about the challenge the Sun Devils present for their young team. "ASU is a very good team and present a challenge because it's about individuals. Harden makes plays when there are no plays. He penetrates and goes left 95% of the time. And even when good defensive players move over and sit on that side, he still figures out how to go left. If we can keep him in front of us, we'll have a chance. We'll also mix up our defenses to force them to deal with more than one look "

Harden is almost surely a first-round pick and may be on his way to becoming the player of the year in the conference. He's averaging 22 points a game and shooting over 50% from the field. Along with Harden they have Jeff Pendergraph who's scoring almost 14 a game down on the block and bringing down 8 rebounds a game as well. "Harden is a lottery pick kind of player and Pendergraph is another guy with solid pro-potential," said Payne, "He's shooting close to 70% I think. With those two they get a lot of things done. They're experienced, they're physical, and they're smart. That's why those two guys are helping them win a lot of games."

But Harden and Pendergraph obviously aren't the only pieces to the ASU puzzle. Harden's ability to drive and dish to others is well documented, but they also have guys who knock it down when he gets it to them. "He's surrounded by shooters so we have to make sure we cover him and recover to the perimeter. If we do that, we have a chance to disrupt them a little." said Payne, Sophomore Rihard Kuksiks is obviously one that Payne's referring to. The 6'6" guard is a solid spot up shooter who's knocking in over 10 points a game as one of the big beneficiaries of the Harden and Pendergraph tandem.

The Ducks have nine more games in conference play to pick up some wins and get grow as a team. That's not what you'd say about most teams but with everyone coming back next year who plays a key role, this season is really just the pre-season for the 2010 year with this group.

Coach Payne spoke a little about how the team's mindset is going into the second half and what Oregon's got to battle past to get some wins.

"Now we've seen everybody. Each team is different. We're not going to be the most talented team every night, but we have to be the toughest. With our youth we cannot afford to make mental mistakes or they'll make us pay. The kids are willing to work hard. I think it'll be a better second half of the Pac ten than the first. "

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